Alden Nowlan

I’d forgotten how deeply I was influenced by the poetry of Alden Nowlan until I bought a copy of his collected poems for myself a year or so ago. My shelf is so extensive it’s taken me until this year to start reading it. It is a doorstopper. When asked what Canadian poets influenced me early on I would say Margaret Atwood, Susan Musgrave. 

Nowlan’s writing is conversational I guess I didn’t think of him as someone to mention. He didn’t write capital P poetry. I’d read others like Milton Acorn, Al Purdy but they didn’t stick to me the way Nowlan did.

In reading this collection I recognize that my usually conversational style come directly from him. He wrote about ordinary things, cows in a field, the smell of a hospital bed and fashion them into powerful moments. He was also a master of the end line, as I tend to be, that turns what one has just read, on its head to reframe everything.

 

I also have his CBC recording Alden Nowlan’s Maritimes – in which he reads some of his poetry one one side, the other side is a radio play based on one his short stories. I did meet him once when I was at the University of New Brunswick summer writing workshop. He didn’t lead any workshops but some of us were invited to his home to talk about our poetry. He was most encouraging.

 

Next to Dylan Thomas there is no greater influence I can think of on my poetic vision.

Arachnologic Romance

what’s that word

you know the one

that you call a kiss

that feels like walking 

into a dew jewelled spider web

on a sunny day

while looking in the basement 

for that lost sock

you know that word

 

that kiss 

that slip of the tongue

that tip of the tail

wagging excitedly

yet with a vague damp unease

at the same time

wanting to give in

yet feeling it’s all too sudden

too stuck on your face

while one hand reaches up 

to brush the spider web off

the other wants to fondle the spider

 

what is that word

I have to get the right word

for that sensational sensation

also a word for that rapidly

elusive need for the right word

I have to tell you all this

in exactly the right tone of voice 

if I don’t

it may never happen again

I may never find that sock

I’ll have to go with one foot bare

on this chilled concrete floor

while other in snug in a sock

trying to balance that tightrope

of grit under one foot

and comfy protection on the other

 

when did I lose that sock

when did I do laundry last 

don’t I have another pair

upstairs in a safe room

in neat rows in a drawer

no it has to be these socks

the ones you like to pull off my feet

with your teeth

 

you like to undress me

kiss each bared part

my outline in your silver silva

draws me into that web

the bad at the centre

where we devour each other

without a second thought

what about the the other sock

 

the word has escape me

I thought I had it trapped

like your tongue

held firmly in my grasp

as it slips slides

elusive fleshy fragments

tender mysteries

and all I can think about

is the tender shock of 

cobweb on my face

don’t want it to get into my eyes

bad enough 

it has caressed my lips

it has a dusty sooty taste

is it hygienic 

can I catch insect infection

eating a cobweb

one hand darts up to brush it away

but stops when I see 

the spider scuttle away

back into the dark

shocked by the size of this catch

not ready to crawl across my shoulders

the way you do so well

not ready to take the seed

and play it into new shapes 

along my stomach

each breath slithering cool trails

laughing at the moment

 

turning over in the bed

looking for our clothe

time for clean socks

the other must be in the laundry

I’ll be right back

only I’m stuck here

caught in a loss for words

looking for a definition

that will wind you around me forever

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every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
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The Maple Mantras


For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton.

The Maple Mantras

Juck Jackson

the greatest living Canadian poet

came to our village

as part of his mission

to use his reputation

to close down fission plants

everywhere in the world 

he wanted world peace

he dreamed of golden sunsets 

unlike the ones we now had 

of mustard smeared ketchup 

suns sinking down in shame

as he said in one of his poems

in his collection ‘The Maple Mantras’

that had won more prizes

than you could wrap around a strip pole

Booker, Griffin, Governor General

Lambda, Nobel

 

Juck Jackson

the greatest living Canadian poet

arrived on a rainy day

he refused to step into the rain

lest the chemicals it has absorbed

for the fission plant

sullied his skin

as he wrote

the rain is the carrier

of progress’s pernicious poison

 

when he appeared to the public

the following day exactly at 12:15

he was wearing

the golden hazmat suit embroidered 

with red gulls and beaded maple leaves

his shimmered like an apparition

in the relentless afternoon sun

from one of his pockets

he took an actual maple leaf

he held it over his head

this is not a maple leaf’

he declared

‘this is our nation

 

I was shaken to my core

the use of image and language

changed how I saw the world

how I saw myself

 

‘when ever you see

a mottled maple leaf

when ever you see the moose

you will be not be seeing 

a leaf or a moose

you will be seeing yourself

these are Gaia mirrors of your soul

 

I looked around me

at the crowd filled stadium

these were longer people to me

familiar faces ceased to be memory 

they became chains

to hold me here

that kept me from

flying on the wind like a leaf

it was then I decided

it was time to leave my village 

to leave the island of isolation

 

in the dark of a strip club

I cornered Juck Jackson

freed him from his hazmat suit

to thank him for the revelation 

of his maple mantras

‘yes fly young man’

he said once he had confirmed 

by touch that I was a man

‘you can find a way

but I cannot help you

my funds are limited 

I only have a tiny apartment 

in the big city

too many people want 

what I cannot afford to give

I hope you have purchased 

a copy of my Maple Mantras

for an extra $5 I will autograph 

it with my blood’

 

I left him there

feeling his hands

still on my body

his kisses on my lips

knowing they were the taste

of the future

There is no Juck Jackson ‘any resemblance to any person, poet living or dead is not intended or should be inferred’ 🙂 But he does represent an archetype. The name is unreal as well but I wanted something sounded ultra-Canadian yet slightly pretentious – I think Juck does that, it sounds like Jack & joke at the same time. 

Growing up in the east coast I don’t think we were ever visited by a great Canadian poet though. If we were they confined themselves to higher academies of learning than high school. We did get visits by Don Gillies – who would choreograph Rotary shows. (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0319174/) Though when I attended some writer’s workshops at UNB I did get to meet some literary stars, the most notable being Alden Nowlan. 

His mission to create change via his reputation is real enough as so many ‘noted’ writer, movie stars, use their fame to bring attention to noble causes. I’m commenting sardonically about the real lack of power poets have regardless of their awards. Awards that rarely result in profit, but maybe the opportunity to teach courses in creativity. The poetry quotes are fiction but reflect a type of Canadian many find worthy of awards. I love his hazmat dash of glamour.

Juck’s visit to the village is chance to sell more of his books while protesting the fission plant. Like my hero my decision to leave was based on freeing myself from my growing isolation in Cape Breton. My example was more of other’s who had left to pursue opportunity, to capitalize on their village success. I’m thinking of a man who won a play festival, went to Toronto & sort of vanished. I did run into him & he was plugging away in the theatre scene & living in a tiny apartment. 

 

Nearly every work of fiction I have read about writers visiting small towns had included their sexual dalliances with locals – cis-hetero conquerers so I had to have Juck get lucky with my hero but I wanted to keep than within the odd naive point of view of my hero. A hero, like me, knowing that kisses were the taste of a future worth pursuing.

 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet